COVID-19 caused steepest drops in life expectancy since World War II, study finds

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The COVID-19 pandemic sparked life expectancy losses not seen since World War II, with the life expectancy for U.S. men falling 2.2 years since 2019, researchers from Oxford University found. 

Researchers analyzed mortality data from 29 countries and found life expectancy reductions in 27 of them. Life expectancy fell by at least six months in 22 countries, relative to 2019, according to the findings published Sept. 27 in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

"For Western European countries such as Spain, England and Wales, Italy, Belgium, among others, the last time such large magnitudes of declines in life expectancy at birth were observed in a single year was during WW-II," said José Manuel Aburto, PhD, co-lead study author. 

In eight countries, women experienced declines greater than a year. The same was true for men in 11 countries, including the U.S., where life expectancy fell by 2.2 years for men — the steepest drop among the groups that were observed in the study. 

"To contextualize, it took on average 5.6 years for these countries to achieve a one-year increase in life expectancy recently: progress wiped out over the course of 2020 by COVID-19," Dr. Aburto said

The steep drops in life expectancy seen in the U.S. are partly attributable to the rise in mortality among working age adults under age 60 in 2020, researchers said. Across most of Europe, mortality increases among those over the age of 60 contributed more significantly to life expectancy losses. 

 

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